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Feud Between Parties Leaves Sweeping State Crime Bill In Jeopardy

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Colorado State Capitol (credit: CBS)

Colorado State Capitol (credit: CBS)

DENVER (CBS4)- A blow up between Democrats and Republicans at the state Capitol has put a sweeping anti-crime measure in jeopardy.

District attorneys across Colorado said if this bill doesn’t pass it will impact public safety. The bill deals with everything from securities fraud to juvenile sentencing. Or at least it did before it was gutted.

Now all that’s left is a bill that addresses hiring part-time prosecutors.

Democrats dismantled the bill to quash an effort by Republicans to resurrect a contentious issue.

At the center of the controversy is a law named after Jessica Lunsford. The young girl from Florida who was raped and murdered by a convicted sex offender.

Jessica’s Law requires mandatory minimum sentences for pedophiles.

Republicans introduced the bill earlier this year and Jessica’s father testified, “How many times do these kids have to go through it before somebody does something?”

A committee controlled by Democrats killed the bill and argued that judges should have the discretion for sentencing.

Then Republicans vowed to add Jessica’s Law to a major crime bill when it reached the floor. That bill was considered by both sides to be important for public safety and shouldn’t be manipulated.

“Because the Republicans were so determined to play games with this bill I had to make the decision as a sponsor to salvage the most important portions of the bill,” said Rep. Daniel Kagan, a Democrat representing Englewood.

Democrats took drastic measures, essentially gutting the bill and even changing its name. All references to crime were dropped to prevent Republicans from adding Jessica’s Law to it.

“We simply don’t understand why the Democrats are avoiding a floor debate on this very important measure to protect Colorado’s children from pedophiles,” said Rep. Frank McNulty, a Republican representing Highlands Ranch.

Both sides accuse each other of playing games.

The Colorado District Attorneys Council said if the crime bill is sacrificed for the sake of politics then we all lose.

“What is lost is an opportunity to make significant corrections to the criminal justice system this year that will enhance public safety,” said Colorado District Attorneys Council spokesman Tom Raynes. “When the need to out-politic one another overcomes the needs of public safety the legislature fails us.”

There is still the possibility the original bill could be salvaged but time is running out.

Gov. John Hickenlooper has waded into the controversy with a letter also signed by the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate.

They’ve received so many requests about Jessica’s Law they’re asking a special commission on criminal and juvenile justice to review it and make recommendations.

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